This week I picked up three more sections of the Ridge Trail. Though the trail is continuous from Kennedy Grove in the north to Garin in the south, about 73 km, it becomes very discontinuous to the south, so I went in and out from transit accessible trailheads. I have mostly finished off the easily transit accessible trails, so the walks from transit to trail are becoming longer.
I have converted the trail council’s spreadsheet to kilometers, as I’m trying to convert my mind from miles to kilometers. The US being the sole holdout in the world for the ‘standard’ system, it costs our county billions of dollars per year, and makes communications with other countries more difficult. I still have some refining to do on the spreadsheet, so won’t post it quite yet, but will share when I can. At any rate, I am now 403 km out of 683 km, 59% of the completed trail, plus another 45 km of gaps and side trails.
I started at Castro Valley BART, where I left off my last trip, and walked to the Five Canyons Trailhead. The trail skirts above houses and eventually rises steeply to the ridge. It drops off the ridge into a wooded shady canyon with flowing (seasonal?) creek, a brief respite from the sunny ridge, and then back up to the ridge. The trail eventually passes through Stonebrae, a membership golf course, upscale to say the least. The council says that a trail down to Niles Canyon is in the planning stage, but meanwhile, a side trail descends steeply through Dry Creek Regional Park, finally reaching a shaded canyon. It is a short walk out to the bus on Mission Blvd, which I used to BART and then another bus to the beginning of the Mission Peak section.
The trail starts again at the upper edge of Ohlone College, and climbs steadily and steeply up onto the main ridge. There were hundreds of people on this trail section, more than I have ever seen on the Ridge Trail, a popular destination. From the point the trail leaves the main trail to the peak and skirts to the east, I saw only two people. The walk up the peak from the south is easier than from the north, and of course less crowded. Eagle Spring Backpack Camp along this section offers picnic tables, porta-potty, and water. It doesn’t look like it gets much use, but would be a good stopping point for long-distance hikers, or just people wanting a night away. I was there in the middle of the day, so moved along. After skirting Allison Peak, with its thicket of communication towers, the trail descents very steeply to the west, dropping into Calera Creek. I missed the trail here and ended up on a cow trail, as did other hikers, so I think there is a sign missing.
I was thinking about walking a road gap from Ed Levin Park to Sierra Vista, along Calaveras Road and Felter Road (which will probably not be the alignment of the ridge trail when complete), but I had failed to notice how far down the trail drops to Ed Levin, almost back to the valley floor, so climbing back to the crest would have pushed me so far that I might not have done the next section.
I caught a ride out from Ed Levin Park to transit from two of the other lost hikers, and then took light rail to Penitencia Creek Station.
I headed up Penitencia Creek Parkway, not very interesting other than providing access, and into Alum Rock Park, which is quite a magical place. I missed a ridge trail turn, perhaps a missing sign, and found myself heading up Penitencia Creek rather than climbing the northern wall of the canyon. Though it is a relatively short distance from the end of the trail in the creek bottom where it becomes the south rim trail, and the Ridge Trail, there is no connection. I continued. Less said, the better, but Penitencia Creek goes into an extremely rough canyon that is barely hikeable, and was quite difficult with a backpack on.
I walked out the Sierra Vista section south to the current end. There will be a connection to Joseph Grant Park, but it is not there yet. I then headed north along the Ridge Trail, which climbs all the way to the ridge, nearly to a trailhead on Sierra Road, and then descends all the way back down to the creek. This south facing slope is almost treeless, just grasslands, and was quite warm even on a moderate temperature day. I saw a lot of people going uphill, already sweating heavily and red-faced.
East Bay Regional Park District and Santa Clara Open Space Authority have grazing on many of their lands. While this is overall a good thing, as it reduces fuel for grass and brush fires, much of the area is seriously overgrazed in my view. It was worst on Santa Clara lands. Grass length was down to less than two inches over large areas, and I could see a number of places where grass had actually been pulled up by the roots, by cows. There are also sacrifice zones of bull thistle where the soil is sterilized by cow flop and nothing else can grow. These ugly black areas, which look like they have been burned, are a message that there are too many cows on for too long. EBRPD and SCOSA are not managing grazing in a responsible manner.
I returned down Penitencia Creek to the light rail station, thence to Diridon Station, and home on the Capitol Corridor. Though I was considering also doing the Santa Teresa section that remains on my list, my feet and the very warm day argued otherwise. I am going to bicycle the Coyote Creek Parkway trail, the remaining Penitencia Creek Parkway trail, and the gap section in between, on another trip.
Photos on Flickr: https://www.flickr.com/photos/allisondan/albums/72157709368421327
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